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By | Monday, March 4, 2013 | 11:23 pm | 2 Comments | Blog > Features

So, we’ve put all these trades in a nice neat order for you. But what if you’re looking for something a little more chaotic? No worries mate, because we’re introducing Bingo Night here at TRO!

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: collect enough trades to achieve five in a row on the table below. If you already have some of the books on the list, then congratulations, you’re almost there.

We’ll start off this month with some randomly selected trades from the DC Comics library. If there’s demand for it, we can roll from other publishers in future renditions — or even combine them.

If you do achieve a bingo, take a picture of your five books in a row (stand in any of your choice for the FREE SPACE) and post it in the comments section. We might just send you a little something for your trouble.

 

TEEN TITANS: TITANS EAST TEEN TITANS SPOTLIGHT: CYBORG PLASTIC MAN ARCHIVES VOL. 1 LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES ARCHIVES VOL. 2 SUPERMAN: REDEMPTION
BIRDS OF PREY VOL. 1: TROUBLE IN MIND KURT BUSIEK’S ASTRO CITY: FAMILY ALBUM SUPERMAN: THE DAILIES VOL. 2 BATMAN: MONSTERS THE SUPERMAN CHRONICLES VOL. 1
TEEN TITANS BY GEOFF JOHNS OMNIBUS VOL. 1 ASTRO CITY: LIFE IN THE BIG CITY FREE SPACE JLA VOL. 2: AMERICAN DREAMS BATGIRL/ROBIN YEAR ONE
DC/WILDSTORM: DREAMWAR JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA: WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE THE LEGION: FOUNDATIONS MYSTERY IN SPACE VOL. 2 ELFQUEST: THE GRAND QUEST VOL. 1
THE AMALGAM AGE OF COMICS: THE DC COMICS COLLECTION BOOSTER GOLD VOL. 1: 52 PICK-UP JONAH HEX: WELCOME TO PARADISE THE SILVER AGE TEEN TITANS COLLECTION VOL. 1 ABSOLUTE BATMAN AND ROBIN: BATMAN REBORN

 

Good luck, and happy collecting!

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By | Saturday, March 2, 2013 | 8:48 pm | 3 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
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View our database entry (coming soon!)
Includes Issues: Morning Glories #13 – 19
Issue Dates: October 2011 – June 2012
Creators:
Nick Spencer, Joe Eisma, Rodin Esquejo

This review contains spoilers, and features excerpts containing mature language. Skip To The Verdict? »

I don’t know how the people reading this series as a monthly do it.

Since its debut, Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma’s thriller about the mysterious/evil Morning Glory Academy and six of its recently-enrolled students has been characterized by two things: fun character moments and twisty-turny, timey-wimey, cliff-hangy plotting, of the sort that asks one to pay close attention and have good memory.  It’s the sort of thing that I would probably find exhausting as a monthly exercise—particularly given the book’s tendency to leave cliffhangers unresolved for months at a time—but is just marvy in collected editions, where one can get a good amount of plot in one more digestible sitting.  And marvy the book is, taking Gossip Girl, The Prisoner, and some olives, and mixing them into a fun, soapy, rated “M” for Mature* cocktail of murder, mini-skirts, and general misbehavin’.

The first volume of the series set up the characters and the main conflict of new students (Casey, Ike, Hunter, Jun, Zoe, and Jade–“the Glories”, as the back-cover blurb calls them) vs. the school. “All Will be Free”, the second arc, placed that conflict on the back burner to develop individual arcs for each protagonist and establish that the weirdness seen so far is in no way limited to the school.  In this third volume, the student body of M.G.A. is ordered outdoors for a character building exercise ominously called “Woodrun”.  Not only does this serve as an excuse to divide our main characters into sub-groups we haven’t seen before, it allows the plot to kick into higher gear as the children are separated from the faculty, one character escapes, another gets a love interest, and more people die.  Also, time travel is a thing now.

One of the things I’ve learned to accept while watching television is that mytharc-heavy stories like Lost or Revenge have a particularly short shelf-life before diminishing returns set in.  Unless the work is allowed to end when the creators want it to, the probability that it will eventually collapse under the weight of its unanswered questions approaches one, making being a fan a fraught proposition. They make for fun flings, but in the end they are rarely worth the commitment they require.

A year and a half into its run, Morning Glories has so far avoided that fate.  Part of it is, I guess, because there’s still a good ratio of questions answered vs. questions raised, and the universe of the series still seems well-contained enough that new mysteries don’t feel like distractions.  That said, I’ll admit that by this point in the series, a bit of plot twist fatigue has set in: it wasn’t until doing some searches for this review that I realized that the writers probably expected me to be a whole lot more shocked by the volume’s second-to-last twist than I actually was.

Even so, if the point comes ever comes where I realize that all the mystery is for naught, I still feel like I could enjoy Morning Glories, thanks to its characters, who continue to shine.  This volume in particular does a lot to flesh out Jade, who up to this moment had been little more than “the suicidal, gothy one”, as she opens up and proves to be actually quite interesting.  On the opposite end of the scale, Hunter, who’s been aggressively pushed as the most normal one in the bunch (read: he’s a socially awkward—yet strictly within the bounds of what is generally considered attractive–geek), displays a rather ugly side to himself in this volume, as he slut-shames classmate Zoe.  While the incident isn’t cut-and-dried—this occurs just after Zoe herself insults him, and she later stops him from apologizing, making it impossible to know just what it is he later feels remorse for—it’s the sort of thing that makes me worried about potential problematic outcomes.  While Nick Spencer has proven himself a capable writer, past experience with other stories has taught me not to be optimistic when it comes to geeky, socially awkward characters in fiction.  Meanwhile, Zoe herself continues to kick ass as she takes advantage of circumstances like a boss,  Ike’s shtick as someone who wants to convince the world that he is nothing more than a heel and cad continues to wear thin, and Jun’s arc continues being pleasantly surprising.

That said, the most fascinating character so far continues to be series protagonist Casey Blevins—not necessarily because of anything she does—although she does do plenty here–but because the way people speak about her adds some welcome shades of gray to the character.  It’s interesting to see different characters have wildly diverging takes on her actions, and the fact that the ambiguity is actually evident, and has been both noticed and noted makes me hopeful for both the character and the book’s larger moral argument: I find it discouraging when stories gloss over people’s immoral behavior because they’re meant to be the “heroes”, so the fact that this doesn’t appear to be the case here is promising.

Art continues to be by regular artist Joe Eisma, who continues to bring in solid work.  While his bag of storytelling tricks isn’t terribly deep—the man does not like playing with panels—he continues to be exactly what the book needs, particularly when it comes to giving dozens of uniformed teenagers individual identities.  I am still not a fan of the Rodin Esquejo covers, however; while better than they have been, continue to feel overly airbrushed and false.

While the first two volumes of Morning Glories had plenty of weirdness to draw the eye and stimulate the muscles that make one want to create flowcharts mapping every single event, “P.E.” is when the series takes a turn from the “consistently weird” to “really? So that’s how you’re going to play?”  And heck, I’m willing to play by its rules, and see where it takes me.

Even if I have to wait half a year between volumes.

* I’m not kidding here: that’s the book’s actual rating, for language, explicit sexual references, and strategically-paced blood and gore.  There’s also, for some reason, lots of scenes where people vomit.

Verdict:
While the barrage of plot twists have begun losing their emotional punch, the central mysteries and the character interactions still make this a very engrossing book.  4 out of 5.

Essential Continuity:
Characters escape, characters find love, characters die.  The status quo at the end of the book is very different from what it is at the beginning.  So yes.

Read First:
The first two volumes: simply put, this is not a series in which to wade into casually, and this volume does not provide the courtesy of a recap page (although in fairness, I suspect that is because any effective recap page would be too unwieldy to do its job properly).

Read Next:
Rachel Rising, which also does “oh my gosh why does weird stuff keep happening what’s going to happen next?” really well.  The first two arcs are now available in trade paperback form.

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By | Tuesday, February 26, 2013 | 3:08 pm | 4 Comments | Blog > Reviews
 
Find This Book At:
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View our database entry (coming soon!)
Creators:
John WagnerPat MillsIan GibsonJim Lawson

This review is spoiler-free! Skip To The Verdict? »

Judge Dredd is a series whose tone became more refined over the years. The basic components were always there, Dredd was always a fascist lawman whose extreme measures are justified by an extreme environment, and the series has always been defined by a mix of science-fiction visionary, social satire and gorgeous art.

The growth in the series is subtle, and you can watch most of it take place over the course of this first volume as it transforms from a glib one-shot intended to spoof Dirty Harry into a futuristic universe as rich and comprehensively realized as any other.

The stories and the art are a lot wackier in the first half of this volume than in the rest of the Complete Case Files. The lines are a little looser and more cartoony and the writing reaches for the kind of dopey, groan-worthy self-referential jokes that Quentin Tarantino likes to sneak into his movies. For instance, consider the rule to never draw Dredd without his helmet. A scene in the comic has Dredd exposing his face directly to a group of thugs and to the reader, only to have it covered with a CENSOR bar. It’s a cute idea, but it’s not the kind of thing you’d see in later Dredd stories.

The humor is often more overt, more goofy, and seemingly less confident in itself and the readers. Like Starship Troopers or Robocop, the later Dredd stories trust the reader to find the humor and the sarcasm inherent to these stories without any aggressive winking and nudging.

This doesn’t mean that these are lesser Dredd stories. In fact, the goofiness sometimes allows the series to be a little more direct. An early story in the book has Judge Dredd fighting King Kong. As goofy as this is, the even-goofier cover art does a fine job of summing up everything there is to say about Judge Dredd as a character as he sits in the palm of the ape’s hand, dwarfed by Kong’s enormous face, and informing him that he is being placed under arrest. This almost Hank Hillesque belief in what he’s doing, that a few honest lawmen can somehow contain a world that has long since given up on peace and order, is the romantic heart of a character who might otherwise be a bit too grim to root for, placing him closer to Superman than to The Punisher on the scale of cynicism.

Everything you like about Judge Dredd is already there in the very first story, only a lot looser and a lot sillier, and it’s fascinating to watch the wackier elements of Dredd’s universe give way to a more believable (if never actually “realistic”) setting.

The artwork in these stories is truly astounding. In the earliest stories, Carlos Ezquerra effortlessly achieves the cartoony violence that Frank Miller has been reaching for for decades, and some early work from Brian Bolland cements the Dredd universe as a believable setting.

The writing is consistently good, although all of the very best Dredd stories would come later. We can read this first volume as a sort of tour-guide of the world of 2099 AD, getting us acquainted with the comic’s setting and setting the stage for the epic tales to come. Still, some early shorts really shine here. The Troggies has a truly creepy feel to it while You Bet Your Life is a grim look at the kind of entertainment that can exist in a world that places little value on the individual human life. The Robot Wars, the first real multi-issue spanning Judge Dredd story arc, while not without its bright spots, is a little overlong, focusing on an army of robot characters that are ultimately just not that remarkable. Later Dredd arcs have a truly epic feel to them where The Robot Wars feels like a one-shot stretched out to dozens of pages.

Dredd starts out strong, it was never a weak series, but every story in the collection comes with the nagging feeling that you can’t wait to get to the really good material in later issues: the Wasted Earth stories, the Chief Judge Cal arc and Judge Death. It’s worth reading these early episodes to get a good sense of the world that Dredd exists in, but the series wouldn’t hit its stride for some time yet.

Verdict:
Standing on its own merits, Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol.1 is a flat out 5/5. Compared to later volumes in the series, call it a 3/5.

Essential Continuity:
Yes, but not so much for the characters, as the comic didn’t rely heavily on plot arcs at this point, but to watch the tone of Judge Dredd evolve.

Read First:
Start with this one, skip around to whatever story interests you and then read the prototype Dredd story at the end.

Read Next:
Unless you’re a completionist or you have the time to read the whole series, you can safely skip to The Cursed Earth, the first Dredd epic to cover over 20 episodes, and written at drawn after the series had really found the right tone.

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By | Monday, February 25, 2013 | 10:52 am | 3 Comments | Blog > News

Hey, folks! Your friendly editor here. I’ve returned from some unfortunately timed business in a far-away land, and will now resume business as usual. But first, a couple notes on my “In Blackest Night” article from earlier this month:

Firstly, as faithful reader Anton points out, I had omitted an important project to the history of leading Black heroes in the DC Universe: Grant Morrison‘s 2005 maxiseries Seven Soldiers, a relaunch of the classic Seven Soldiers of Victory super-team which focused on D-list, unlikely heroes from the annals of DC history taking the center stage.

 

Each of the seven members would be given their own miniseries, including two leading Black men. First was Jake Jordan, better known as the Manhattan Guardian, a legacy hero to Jack Kirby’s Guardian — an attempted cash-in on the popularity of Captain America and the less popular of Metropolis’s champions. Jake Jordan, though he dressed similarly to his forbear Jim Harper, had little in common and redefined the costume to fit his own identity: one which, after Seven Soldiers had ended, would only be briefly revisited in cameo roles during Infinite Crisis and 52, and never again. Still, one might argue that Jones’ role as Guardian was the inspiration for teenage vigilante Mal Duncan to don the  Guardian’s costume once more in the current Young Justice animated series: and in that sense, his legacy lives on.

Second of Morrison’s two leading Black men was Mister Miracle: no, not Darkseid’s adopted son and husband to Big Barda. This one is yet another legacy hero by the name of Shilo Norman — in fact, he originates as a supporting character in the more far more famous Scott Free’s own Mister Mircale title in 1973. Scott, an escapee from Apokolips, and Shilo, a very human boy abandoned by his mother as an infant, both inherited the title from their shared mentor, escapologist and the original Mister Miracle, Thaddeus Brown. Shilo goes on to become a central figure in the “Joker’s Last Laugh” 2001 story line, and finally climbing up onto the marquee in Morrison’s 2005 series, which sees him sacrifice his life only to pull the greatest escape of all: from that of his own grave. Shilo remains a significant character within the DC Universe up until 2010’s Brightest Day series, but has not been heard from since The New 52 relaunch.

Oh man, that takes me right to my next point. Speaking of The New 52: when we last spoke, DC had only two of its original five series with leading Black characters still ongoing: since then, we have received news of The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Man‘s impending cancellation. This means that Batwing is the publishing company’s only title left in this regard. This Black History Month will soon come to a close, and you can make far worse purchases at your local comic shop than the first volume of Batwing. Everyone deserves identifiable role models – help keep diversity in comics alive!

This month is winding down, isn’t it? That means you’ve only got 3 more days to enter our very first giveaway under the new administration here at TRO, Justice League International Vol. 1: A New Beginning. Get to the comments section and start writing!

As for us, expect a full report on what we’ve been doing with the database this week, as well as two new reviews: one from the talented and outspoken Ian Perez, and one from new friend “Ghastly” Gilbert Smith. Don’t miss out!

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By | Tuesday, February 12, 2013 | 9:37 pm | 4 Comments | Blog > Reviews
 
Find This Book At:
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Includes Issues: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #5-8
Issue Dates: October 1989 – February 1990
Creators:
Dean Clarrain, Ryan Brown, Ken Mitchromey, Jim Lawson

This review containts minor spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

Published from 1989 to 1995, Archie’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures feels a lot like the end result of a game of Telephone: ostensibly based on the first cartoon version of the property, it decided pretty early on that it’d rather be interesting instead.  As the book wore on, it shed the trappings of its source material with increasing gusto, until it became unrecognizable, featuring stories that were less about Shredder and Krang’s nth attempt at world domination and more about having future versions of the turtles travel  back in time to fight both Hitler and his brain, and then being responsible for the Führer’s suicide.

Although I, like seemingly every other kid back then, was swept by the original turtles phenomenon, it was the Archie comic that made the most impact on me.  While I wasn’t a regular reader, and I wasn’t always sure what was going on, it didn’t really matter: conceptually and tonally, these were stories unlike anything I had ever seen at the time, and even though they don’t hold up to more critical scrutiny, they remain some of my favorite bits of TMNT lore.  Given that, it was hard not to get excited when IDW Publishing began reprinting these stories; sure, it’s highway robbery at $20.00 per volume—meaning $5.00 per issue—but the chance to revisit the title’s earliest days, which I had almost no memory of, was too good to pass up.

While elements from the cartoon are retained, they are often handled from a different perspective.  In the original, this is the sort of order the turtles would often make without comment.

Despite the “2” on the cover, this volume contains the Archie series’ very first original stories–the book up until then had consisted of adaptations of cartoon episodes–arguably making this the actual start of the series proper.  The difference between it and the source is pretty much immediately noticeable.  Sure, the Ken Mitchroney art is clearly inspired by the cartoon, and characters and elements that would later be abandoned, like the Turtle Blimp and mainstays Bebop and Rocksteady–are still being used, but even then there are a host of subtle differentiating details dotting the book, foreshadowing the turn it would eventually take.  Most importantly, stories are less cynical: whereas the cartoon felt like the product of people who knew they were creating something utterly disposable and therefore didn’t require things like sympathetic characters or stories with proper weight, the creators here care and want the reader to care.  Less noticeably, the various characters have been made different in ways subtle and not: the turtles are less reliant on their theme-song quirks; the Shredder and Krang feel more like legitimate threats than annoyances, April, despite having only a cameo, appears long enough to have her professional context altered.

In retrospect, the first story of the volume, “Something Fishy Goes Down”, feels like an outlier, being the only story of the four that isn’t directly connected to the others and featuring the kind of plot that probably would have made it into the cartoon. The Shredder, armed with a submarine, is set to ruin Independence Day by blowing up the Statue of Liberty, and its up to the turtles and marine biologist-turned-mutant-manta-ray Man Ray (of course) to stop him. It’s a nothing sort of story, and while there’s nothing particularly wrong with it, it’s by far the weakest of the lot.

Writers Ryan Brown and Dean Clarrain wasted no time in creating new characters for the series. The cow head hovering in the nonexistent background is Cudley the Cowlick, who would become one of the more popular ones.Things start hitting in their stride in “Of Turtles and Stones and Mary Bones”, which introduces the book’s version of classic TMNT character Leatherhead and tells us his story.  Curiously, the character shares almost nothing with his animated namesake, essentially being an entirely new concept in a familiar body: instead of being a crocodile mutated by toxic ooze, this version of the character is Jess Hartley, a petty thief who is turned into a leatherhead by bayou sorceress Mary Bones.  The story is told primarily from Jess’ point of view, as he literally falls in with the Shredder and is convinced that the turtles are responsible for his plight and may be able to reverse it.  Aside from a rather painful internal monologue at the beginning, it’s a fine story, and a good example of how to get the most out of the original cartoon’s setup.

The best of the four stories is by far “Intergalactic Wrestling”, in which the turtles are kidnapped and taken to an asteroid where they are forced to fight in a wrestling match.  The setting allows the creators to go wild, and the issue just throws character after weird character at the reader, and while they’re more gimmicks than anything else, they’re great gimmicks. Highlights include Ace Duck, a banana-hammock-sporting Duck bodybuilder/wrestler, and Cudley the Cowlick, who requires far too many adjectives to elegantly describe, and who became one of the more enduringly popular characters in the book.

Finally, there’s “Wild Things”, in which the turtles are returned to Earth just in time to take on the duo of Wingnut and Screwloose (the names fit their personalities) aliens whose planet has been ravaged by Krang, and who have made it their lives’ mission to find the warlord and defeat him.  For reasons unexplained, this involves breaking New York City skylights.

Although the four stories are for the most part self-contained, there is a fair level of interconnectedness between them.  Not only do three of the four stories lead directly into one another, there are hints of a larger story at work throughout.  Additionally, all four stories introduce characters who will eventually become a vital part of the comic book, and who were either original or not prominent in the cartoon—Leatherhead is the exception–further differentiating the two.

While the physical altercations featured in the book were at this point still bloodless affairs, they were considerably more physical and dynamic than their cartoon counterparts at the time. Dean Clarrain has been one of the writers most closely associated with TMNT comics—the name is a pseudonym for Stephen Murphy, who is responsible for a good amount of Mirage-published books in addition to most of TMNT Adventures‘–and I was surprised to find that this is probably the most consistent work I’ve yet seen from him.  While it’s not his most memorable by any means, there’s a level of focus that is missing from his latter work, which I’m tempted to credit to Ryan Brown’s collaborator as co-plotter.  It’s also interesting to learn that Clarrain’s concern with environmental issues, which is the closest thing Adventures has to an overarching theme, was present from the very beginning.

Ken Mitchroney is the artist for three of the four issues, and his art is perfect for this particular era in the book.  It doesn’t quite try to replicate the actual look from the cartoon, it manages to suggest it while being its own thing.  Long-time Turtles artist Jim Lawson draws the last issue, and while his art was very rarely a good fit for this book, his work here—inked by Gary Fields, who also serves as the book’s regular letterer–is probably his best when it comes to this particular title.

With the Ninja Turtles currently undergoing yet another renaissance, it’s nice to revisit its past to see what one can learn from it.  Recently, I’ve realized that a huge part of what makes the TMNT work for me is the weirdness, a love for Concepts That Make You Go “!” and makes the works interesting even when the stories aren’t  terribly good.  On those terms, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures: Volume 2 succeeds admirably: not only does it feature solid stories, it stands as a testament of the wide variety of stories that can be told with these characters.

Verdict:
Serves as a decent nostalgia trip, and a good example of how one can make a less serious take on the turtles work.  Still, perfectly ignorable if one isn’t a fan, despite “Intergalactic Wrestling”, particularly given the price. 3 out of 5.

Essential Continuity:
A fair amount: it’s the first appearances of a bunch of important characters, and the very beginnings of a subplot that will run through the book’s first year,

Read first:
Nothing in particular.  If you’re familiar with the setup of the original cartoon, or really, with the turtles at all, you’re set.

Read next:
The original Mirage TMNT, for a good idea of how the two titles could be so different and yet so similar.  Or, if you can find it, the TMNT: Future Tense Trade Paperback, to see where the Archie book eventually ended up.

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